U.S. Politics

The United States Senate is a failed institution (Opinion)

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

THINK PROGRESS

It’s a malapportioned, anti-democratic embarrassment.

Let’s briefly take stock of what’s about to happen in the U.S. Senate.

A president who lost the popular vote by 2,864,974 nominated Neil Gorsuch to serve a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest Court. Although a bloc of senators representing at least 53 percent of the country oppose this nominee, Gorsuch is all but certain to be confirmed — after a bit of a showdown over the Senate’s rules.

Gorsuch’s confirmation will come more than a year after President Obama — a president who won the popular vote, twice — nominated Merrick Garland to the same vacant seat on the Supreme Court. At the time, Democratic senators represented over 53 percent of the nation. Yet Garland was not confirmed because, in the bizarre kind of math that exists in the U.S. Senate, 53 percent support only earned the Democratic caucus 46 percent of the Senate’s seats.

This is hardly an unusual event in the Senate’s history. The Senate is the product of a compromise that, while it made sense at the time, rested on assumptions that haven’t been true for more than a century. It was an early bulwark for southern slaveholders and a firewall protecting Jim Crow. One of its most defining traits, the filibuster, was invented accidentally by the villain in a popular Broadway musical.

The Senate is a relic, wrapped in a mistake, wrapped in a toxic dose of sanctimony.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is one of the few Democrats who will not vote to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. He explained to reporters that he doesn’t want to goad Senate Republicans into eliminating filibusters of Supreme Court nominees, which they are expected to do after Gorsuch is filibustered.

“People who have been here for a long time know that we’re going down the wrong path here,” Manchin claimed. “The most unique political body in the world, the United States Senate, will be no more than a six-year term in the House.”

Manchin may be right that the Senate is the world’s most unique political body, but it is unique in the same way that Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar is a unique restaurant, or that Nickelback is a unique band. The Senate is theShowgirls of legislative chambers, the Miller Clear Beer of lawmaking bodies. It’s past time someone put it to sleep.

How we got into this mess

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Thomas Jefferson famously wrote in the document that set 13 British colonies on the path to independence, “that all men are created equal.” Eleven years later, several of the same men who signed this Declaration of Independence joined the delegates to America’s constitutional convention — where they promptly cast aside any pretense that the United States is dedicated to the notion that all people are equal.

The Founding Fathers betrayed the Declaration’s promise with a Constitution that explicitly protected the institution of slavery. But they also betrayed it with the Senate, which treats residents of small states as more worthy of representation than residents of larger states.

In fairness, there’s a good explanation for why delegates from larger states were willing to trade away their right to equal representation in the national legislature. The Articles of Confederation, which proceeded the Constitution, was less a charter for a single nation and more akin to NATO, or perhaps the European Union. As Yale law professor Akhil Amar explains, the Articles were “an alliance, a multilateral treaty of sovereign nation-states.”

Under the Articles, Congress could neither tax individuals directly, raise troops, or provide for an army — a matter of great annoyance to General George Washington. The 13 former colonies largely functioned as their own independent nations.

The Senate is a relic, wrapped in a mistake, wrapped in a toxic dose of sanctimony.

Yet, while the United States’ first experiment in unity was more treaty than Union, early American leaders were both well-versed in European history and fearful of the warfare than inevitably results when rival nations share geographic borders. The Constitution was thus an effort to solve two problems at once: to bind the 13 states together in a manner that would keep them from warring with each other, but also to ensure that this Union had real authority over its citizens.

Understood in this context, the Great Compromise that led to the Senate makes sense. Large states like Pennsylvania and New York feared war with their neighboring states more than they feared being outvoted in the Senate. Small states had a stronger claim to equal representation when they were conceived of as independent nations and not simply a collection of individual citizens. And, in any event, the malapportioned Senate would be less dysfunctional that the loose collection of separate nations joined together under the Articles of Confederation.

Yet, whatever the logic of this compromise in 1787, a lot has changed since then. The United States has a coherent national identity. Rhode Island has little to fear from the conquering armies of nearby Massachusetts. Utah is not going to fight a war with Colorado.

And yet the Senate persists, treating each resident of Wyoming as 67 times more worthy than each resident of California, despite the fact that the circumstances that birthed the Senate no longer exist.

The slaveholder’s house

Not long after the Constitution was ratified, slaveholders discovered that they had a problem — most of the nation lived in free states. By the early 1820s, free states controlled 105 of the 187 seats in the House of Representatives — and that’s after you account for the fact that the Three-Fifths Compromisepermitted slave states to count 60 percent of their enslaved and disenfranchised population when it came time to allocate seats in the House.

If the House were the only game in town, in other words, it could conceivably have banned the slave trade — or at least taken fairly aggressive steps to hobble the South’s “peculiar institution.”

The South’s fears came to a head in 1819, when an obscure New York congressman introduced amendments to legislation admitting Missouri as a state, which would have banned any expansion of slavery within Missouri and required that all new children born into slavery be freed at age 25. Among other things, if Missouri were admitted into the Union on these terms, free states would have gained a majority in the Senate.

The response, as Princeton historian Sean Wilentz writes, was “blistering.” Southern lawmakers “virtually threatened secession were the amendments approved.” Northerners united behind the amendments in the House, pushing them across the finish line to passage.

Nevertheless, the amendments were ultimately defeated in the Senate, after five northern senators crossed over to vote with a unified South. Missouri was eventually admitted to the Union as a slave state, under the terms enacted through the so-called Missouri Compromise.

The Senate, however, truly came into its own as a savior for Southern racists in the century following the Civil War.

In 1875, Reconstruction was on its last legs. Democrats, then the party most sympathetic to Southern whites, recently regained control of the House of Representatives. When Mississippi Democrats staged a violent uprising to seize control of their state, President Grant did not send troops to intervene. Within just two years, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes would sell out African Americans in the South in order to secure his own election — trading the end of Reconstruction for the presidency.

Yet, even as white supremacists tightened their grip on the old Confederacy, Congress, several senators elected under Reconstruction governments had not yet completed their terms. As racist mobs marched through the state, Mississippi still had two Republican senators in 1875 — one of whom, Sen. Blanche Bruce, was a black man.

1875 was thus the last year until midway through the next century that Congress enacted a civil rights law of any kind. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 prohibited racial discrimination by “inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement,” though this provision was soon struck down by the Supreme Court.

The reason why no new civil rights bill emerged from Congress until 1957 was the Senate. Though five such bills cleared the House in the 12 years following World War II alone, Senate malapportionment gave the southern senators far more influence over the legislative process than their states’ population could justify.

That, combined with another peculiarity of the Senate, was enough to halt civil rights in its tracks.

Talk less, smile more

This is an impolitic time for a liberal news site to discuss the history of the filibuster. A bloc of Democrats comprising a majority of the nation but a minority of the seats in the Senate hope to keep a very conservative judge off the Supreme Court through a filibuster. Republican leaders hope to block this maneuver by eliminating filibusters of Supreme Court nominees. Having endured under the filibuster for so many years, the United States would undoubtedly be better off if the filibuster survives just a little bit longer until the Gorsuch nomination is defeated.

Yet, while the senators hoping to filibuster Gorsuch represent a majority of the nation, this state of affairs is fairly unusual. The filibuster played a major role in Southern senators’ efforts to halt civil rights legislation. It played a similar role in a Republican minority’s efforts to shut down the only agency that can enforce much of federal labor law in 2013, and it was the centerpiece of Republican efforts to sabotage the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before it was even operational. The last time the Senate erupted into a nuclear showdown over the filibuster, a Republican minority tried to prevent President Obama from confirming anyone to a powerful appeals court in Washington, DC.

Far more often than not, in other words, the filibuster thwarts democracy rather than reinforcing it. It cheated African Americans out of their full status as citizens. It threatened to dismantle entire agencies, despite the fact that Congress passed no law permitting this to happen. If the filibuster rules do change this week, Democrats should lament the rise of Neil Gorsuch, but they should not weep to see one of the most anti-democratic aspects of the Senate suffer another cut.

The filibuster’s very existence is an historic accident arising from one of Aaron Burr’s final acts as vice president. As Brookings political scientist Sarah Binder recounts the history, the lame duck vice president returned to the Senate in 1805, fresh off his indictment for killing Alexander Hamilton. There, as the Senate’s presiding officer, he told the senators that their rule book was too complicated and had too many duplicative procedures. One process in particular, the “previous question motion,” Burr deemed especially worthy of removal.

And the Senate believed him. They eliminated this motion the next year.

It turned out, however, that the previous question motion was not superfluous, it was a motion that enabled senators to cut off debate on a subject when a minority wanted to keep that debate going. Thus, by eliminating the motion, Burr effectively enabled dissenters to delay a vote indefinitely by forcing the Senate to “debate” it until the majority gave up.

No one actually attempted this until 1837, when “a minority block of Whig senators prolonged debate to prevent Andrew Jackson’s allies from expunging a resolution of censure against him.” But filibusters grew increasingly common over most of the following century and in 1917, the Senate amended its rules to permit a two-thirds supermajority to end debate. This threshold was eventually lowered to 60 senators, and later to 51 senators for confirmation votes not involving Supreme Court nominees.

In any event, one of the Senate’s most distinctive features, the filibuster, is not part of some grand vision of minority rights handed down from up on high to the Founding Fathers. It is an accident, created by a lame duck vice president and a body of senators who did not understand what they were doing.

Can it be fixed?

In its inception, the Senate had two anti-democratic features. It is malapportioned, and its members were originally selected by state legislatures, not by the voters themselves. As explained above, it soon developed a third major anti-democratic feature, the filibuster.

The good news, for those of us who believe that the right to govern should flow from the will of the people, is that the Senate has gotten better over time. The Seventeenth Amendment provides for direct election of senators. The filibuster is part-way through a process that is likely to end in its demise.

Nevertheless, curing the Senate’s greatest sin against democracy — the fact that it treats a person from California as 1/67th of a person from Wyoming — will be a much heavier lift.

Although the Constitution provides two processes for amendments, these processes come with two caveats. No amendment could be made prior to 1808 curtailing the slave trade, and “no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.”

Theoretically, there are ways around this problem. The United States could ratify two amendments to the Constitution — one permitting amendments to the Senate’s makeup and another actually changing that makeup or abolishing the Senate. Or, alternatively, a single amendment could leave the Senate in place as a malapportioned body, but reduce its authority so that it becomes an advisory body similar to the British House of Lords.

The problem with these solutions, however, is that any amendment requires the consent of three-fourths of the states, and it is unlikely that the states that benefit from malappointment will vote to reduce their own power.

So that leaves one last option, a constitutional revolution. And there is one very significant precedent for such radical change.

Under the Articles of Confederation, amendments were only permitted with the unanimous consent of the states. Nevertheless, a new Constitution was drafted in Philadelphia which, by its own terms, became effective upon “the ratification of the conventions of nine states.” The Constitution of the United States is, in this sense, unconstitutional.

We the People could once again invoke a similar process to create a more democratic union — one that is not only free of Senate malapportionment, but also free of other anti-democratic aspects of our present system such as partisan gerrymandering and the Electoral College.

I have no illusions that this will happen any time soon, but it is likely the only way that the United States can become a truly democratic republic — one where everyone’s vote counts equally, regardless of where they live.

Ian Millhiser

U.S. Politics

Key Senate committee won’t probe possible Trump-Russia collusion

 

170112-richard-burr-getty-1160.jpg

“We don’t have any authority to go to any campaign and request information that one would need to do an investigation,” Sen. Richard Burr said. | Getty

POLITICO

The development raises questions about who in Congress, if anyone, will investigate the matter.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Thursday his panel’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election would not look into possible contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Burr’s comments raise questions about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s piecemeal approach to investigating Russia’s role in the election — and who in Congress, if anyone, will investigate allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia once the president-elect takes office.

McConnell has rejected calls for a select committee with a broad mandate to investigate the issue, or an independent commission with subpoena power. The Kentucky Republican has instead ordered individual Senate committees to run their own separate investigations within the confines of their committee jurisdictions.

“We don’t have anything to do with political campaigns,” Burr said Thursday as he left a closed-door briefing with intelligence officials on Russian meddling. “We don’t have any authority to go to any campaign and request information that one would need to do an investigation.”

Asked who should investigate the issue, Burr responded: “I would imagine that would probably be the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

The senator downplayed the possibility of coordination between Trump’s associates and Russia, dismissing as rumor a 35-page “dossier” of unsubstantiated allegations posted online Tuesday by BuzzFeed News.

“The only accusations that there were contacts are in a document that the media has had for over three months and until this week nobody printed because they couldn’t find anything that fact-checked anything in the 35 pages,” Burr said. “This is speculation, and I don’t suggest that the FBI chase speculative things, and I certainly don’t include that in a committee process that I take very, very seriously.”

The unsubstantiated dossier, though, is not the only evidence of ties between Trump’s team and Moscow. Several of the president-elect’s current and former associates have links to Russia — including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who lobbied for a pro-Russian politician in Ukraine, and incoming National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who was photographed in 2015 sitting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a celebration in Moscow for the Russian-funded television network RT.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister also said shortly after the November election his government had been in touch with members of the Trump campaign — though, as Sen. Lindsey Graham pointed out, there are legitimate reasons why a presidential campaign might be in contact with a foreign government.

“Obviously, we know most of the people from [Trump’s] entourage,” the Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, told the state-run Interfax news agency in November.

A spokeswoman for Burr, Becca Watkins, said the chairman’s remarks were intended to clarify the separate roles of his committee and federal law-enforcement agencies.

“Sen. Burr is saying that the jurisdiction for the committee is to oversee the intelligence community, and investigate the behavior of foreign intelligence services,” Watkins said. “The committee is looking into Russian active measures, not investigating American political campaigns. That would be an investigation for the FBI.”

She added: “If in the course of our investigation we discover anything that falls outside the committee’s mandate, we will refer that information to the appropriate entities — be they other congressional committees or government agencies.”

There are growing calls in Congress, though, for a wider investigation into Russia’s role in the election with a larger scope.

Sen. Mark Warner, the Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, said Tuesday he wanted possible contacts between Russia and the presidential campaigns to be part of the committee’s ongoing probe.

“In my view, our committee investigation should focus on three broad areas,” the Virginia senator said at a committee hearing, listing the third area as “contact between the Russian government and its agents, and associates of any campaign and candidate.”

Warner said after the intelligence briefing on Thursday that his views remain “the same as I’ve talked about.”

Meanwhile, Republicans Graham and Sen. John McCain have joined Democratic leaders in calling for a select committee to investigate the issue, though the pair backed off after McConnell made clear he wouldn’t agree to it. The majority leader’s office declined to comment, instead pointing to McConnell’s past comments on how the Senate should investigate Russia’s meddling.

For his part, McCain said Thursday he planned to speak to Burr about why he wasn’t looking into the possibility of contacts between Russia and the campaigns.

“I got to talk to him and ask him why he made the decision he made before I can comment on it,” said the Arizona senator. Asked who would investigate the matter if not the Senate Intelligence Committee, McCain responded: “Honestly, I don’t know.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), an Intelligence Committee member, said he views the panel as the best forum to conduct a successful probe of Russia’s hacking efforts, using open and closed sessions where necessary.

No matter whether alleged coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign is ruled out of the committee’s purview, Manchin added, any thread of inquiry with “concrete” proof behind it and “tied to credible sources” will end up coming into play.

“It’ll come in no matter whether you want it or not,” Manchin said in an interview. “Hopefully [a thorough investigation] will weed out all the crap. It’ll weed out all the nonconfirmed, the rumors, and things of this sort.”

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, this week said the unsubstantiated allegations that Russia sought compromising information on Trump make it more urgent for Congress to conduct a broad investigation into the issue.

“These reports, though unverified, warrant serious investigation by a select committee in Congress or a commission of public officials and private citizens with subpoena power to investigate them — led by people of integrity like Gen. Colin Powell and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor,” Durbin said in a statement.

Last month, McConnell said he believes the Senate Intelligence Committee “is more than capable of conducting a complete review” of Russian interference in the election.

“I have every confidence in Chairman Burr that he will review the matter in a responsible way,” he said, noting that other Senate Committees, including the Armed Services panel, would also have roles in investigating the issue.

In the House, a spokesman for Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Jack Langer, said some parts of the “dossier” published by BuzzFeed could be examined as part of the panel’s review of the intelligence community’s Russia assessment.

“We’re just beginning our work and that hasn’t been decided yet,” Langer said.

President Obama

Obama: Eliminate The Senate Filibuster

V4j5zhg3gwy56i9e2zmx
AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

TPM LiveWire

He said the “routine” use of the 60-vote requirement by Senate minorities makes it arcane in an era of partisan polarization, and that it “almost ensures greater gridlock and less clarity in terms of the positions of the parties.”

Obama, whose presidency has coincided with the dramatic escalation of filibusters, noted that there’s “nothing in the Constitution that” protects the blocking tactic.

Though he has typically been mum about Senate rules, Obama benefited greatly from Senate Democrats’ move in 2013 to eliminate the filibuster for most executive branch and judicial nominations. It remains in place for Supreme Court nominations and legislation.

Here’s the relevant quote by Obama, via Vox, in response to a question about how to govern amidst polarization.

Probably the one thing that we could change without a constitutional amendment that would make a difference here would be the elimination of the routine use of the filibuster in the Senate. Because I think that does, in an era in which the parties are more polarized, it almost ensures greater gridlock and less clarity in terms of the positions of the parties. There’s nothing in the Constitution that requires it. The framers were pretty good about designing a House, a Senate, two years versus six-year terms, every state getting two senators. There were a whole bunch of things in there to assure that a majority didn’t just run rampant. The filibuster in this modern age probably just torques it too far in the direction of a majority party not being able to govern effectively and move forward its platform. And I think that’s an area where we can make some improvement.

2016 Hopefuls · Sen. Jim Webb

4 Things You Should Know About The Democrat Who Has Just Kicked Off The 2016 Elections

Barack Obama, Jim Webb | CREDIT: (AP PHOTO/STEVE HELBER, FILE)

Think Progress

Hillary Clinton has been crowned by many as the presumptive Democratic nominee for 2016, but there are other Democratic hopefuls out there. On Thursday one of them became the first potential candidate to form an exploratory committee, the first step in the long run for the presidency.

That man is former Virginia Senator Jim Webb. You may remember him as the guy who served one term in Senate between 2007 and 2013, and chose not to seek re-election. Webb served in the Reagan administration as Secretary of the Navy but ran as a Democrat for senate in 2006. In his announcement video, Webb highlighted his bipartisan roots, his military history, and made a generally centrist argument as to why he is considering a run for the presidency. Here are a few more things you should know about Jim Webb, the guy who has officially kicked off the 2016 Presidential elections.

1. Webb is not a dove.

Webb opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. His stance on the issue has led to many people calling him a dove-ish democrat, but that characterization is not all that clear. Webb did not oppose the war in Iraq on humanitarian grounds, but rather because he believed it was a strategic error, arguing that the conflict would sap vital resources from military engagements in other parts of the world and strengthen Iran. “I am not against fighting when fighting is necessary,” he told Inside the Navy at the time. “What I am for is making sure you are fighting the right war.” A Vietnam veteran, Webb famously said in 2007 he still believed that the Vietnam War was a good idea, and partially blamed the “anti-war left” for the way things turned out. In his announcement video, he speaks vaguely of “ill-considered foreign ventures that have drained trillions from our economy and in some cases brought instability instead of deterrence,” but doesn’t name names. Webb was opposed to military intervention in Libya.

2. Webb only recently evolved to support marriage-equality.

Webb was against same-sex marriage during his time in the Senate, although he wasopposed to a Virginia constitutional amendment that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. Last month he told The Richmond Times that he was “comfortable with the evolution” the issue has seen over the past few years. “I think it has been a good thing for this country,” he said. Webb also voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell after having campaigned against it.

3. Webb didn’t want the EPA to regulate greenhouse gasses.

Webb has been less than progressive on the issue of climate change. In 2011, he voted for a bill that would’ve halted the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gasses. He is a proponent of the Keystone pipeline and even called on Obama to open Virginia’s coast to oil and natural gas exploration.

4.Webb is big on prison reform.

If Webb for President is a long shot, at least his candidacy can serve to bring the important yet rarely discussed issue of prison reform into the spotlight. Webb is outspoken on the issue and introduced legislation in the senate that would’ve created a commission to recommend widespread reforms to the criminal justice system. The bill hoped to remedy racial disparities within the system, address the fact that there are four times as many mentally ill people in prisons than in mental hospitals, and probe into the causes of the U.S.’s extremely high incarceration rate. The bill had unanimous Democratic support but was filibustered by Republicans and did not pass.

And there you have it. The 2016 elections have officially begun.

2016 Senate Races · Nate Silver

Predicting the Senate election down to the decimal point

Nathaniel “Nate” Silver, editor-in-chief of ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight blog. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

This article might be a bit too wonkish for some but here goes anyway…

The Washington Post ~ Dana Milbank

In the old days, life had many hardships. Among these: the need to wait until Election Day to determine who had won.

But now Big Data has saved us from this struggle. Even close races can now be predicted with mathematical precision.

We know, for example, with 98 percent certainty that Sen. Kay Hagan, an embattled Democrat, will win reelection in North Carolina next month. We are even more certain — 99 percent — that Sen. Mitch McConnell, a vulnerable Republican, will keep his seat in Kentucky. And we are darn near sure — 91 percent, to be specific — that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) will lose.

Throw all of these into our election model, add eye of newt and toe of frog, stir counterclockwise and — voila! — we can project with 84 percent confidence that Republicans will control the Senate next year.

The above data are from The Post’s Election Lab, run by George Washington University professor John Sides, but his is just one of several election models that claim to predict results with finely tuned accuracy. As of Tuesday afternoon, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, which turned the academic discipline of computer models into a media game, gives Republicans a 57.6 percent chance of taking the Senate. (Decimal points are particularly compelling.) The New York Times’s model goes with 61 percent, DailyKos 66 percent, Huffington Post 54 percent and PredictWise 73 percent. The Princeton Election Consortium gives a 54 percent advantage to Democrats . Apparently they forgot to add the toe of frog.

Some models have good records, and the theory behind them is sound. “Models help guard against any natural partisan bias,” Sides told me. “You use data to make decisions instead of your instincts or folklore. Instincts are sometimes correct, but on average data will be better.”

Yet there can be too much of a good thing — as when media outlets put too much faith in the numbers the models churn out. “Nate Silver’s team at Five­ThirtyEight gives the GOP a 59 percent chance of retaking the Senate, down one point from last week,” ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos told his roundtable Sunday on “This Week.” “Was Nate Silver right to move it just an inch away from the Republicans?”

Modelers like to think Big Data can revolutionize election coverage the way “Moneyball” changed baseball recruitment. And some editors see it as an alternative to poll-driven coverage of politics. But models rely heavily (in some cases, exclusively) on polls and are subject to the garbage-in, garbage-out rule. Models also rely on historical patterns, and in politics, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Recently, modelers have taken to discrediting each other publicly. Silver on Sept. 26 tweeted a shot at the “overconfident model” of Princeton’s Sam Wang: “Yesterday, Sam Wang’s snapshot had [Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark] Begich as a 99% favorite in Alaska. Today it gives him a 23% chance.” Silver later let people know Wang gave Sharron Angle a 99.997 percent chance to win the Nevada Senate seat that she lost to Harry Reid in 2010.

Wang, in turn, said Silver blew both the Nevada and Colorado Senate races that year.

Silver’s model has put Republican chances of winning the Senate between 53 percent and 65 percent over the past several weeks. The Times’s model has bounced around over a longer period from about 40 percent to the high 60s. The Post’s Election Lab has gone from 86 percent odds for Republicans in mid-July to a 51 percent edge for Democrats in mid-September before bouncing back up to the current 84 percent GOP advantage.

Smooth out the fluctuations, average the models together, and you end up with a reasonable forecast: Republicans are slightly favored to get the six seats they need to take the Senate.

Now compare that to Stu Rothenberg, an old-school political forecaster supposed to have been made anachronistic by Big Data. In August 2013, he predicted Republicans would gain three to six Senate seats, gradually moving that up to his current prediction of a five-to-eight-seat Republican gain, which he has held since August. He was earlier and more consistent than the models.

Rothenberg told me the models “hype” and are “intellectually deceptive” because they “convey a sense of mathematical certainty that is simply misleading.” Rothenberg uses polling and other data, but he also interviews candidates and is “humble enough to know that every election cycle is different.”

Charlie Cook, another old-school forecaster, thinks the Big Data models have a place, but they put too much science in politics. “They err,” he told me, in assuming “a precision and confidence that doesn’t exist in human behavior.”

I’m 98.7 percent certain Cook is correct.

GOP Candidates/Koch Bros. · Koch Brothers

At Koch Retreat, Top GOP Senate Candidates Credited Koch Network For Their Rise

The Huffington Post

Three top Republican Senate candidates heaped praise on the political network built by the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch during a secretive conference held by the brothers this past summer, according to audio of the event.

Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst and Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton directly credited donors present at the June 16 retreat in Dana Point, California, for propelling them forward. Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner told attendees that his race would likely be decided by the presence of “third party” money — an obvious pitch for generosity from the well-heeled crowd.

The presence of Gardner and Cotton was previously reported by The Nationmagazine, though it is unclear if Cotton ever confirmed his appearance. Ernst’s attendance had not previously been reported.

For all three, the association with the Koch brothers’ network is likely to provide kindling for their opponents, who have already argued that the Republicans are steered by deep-pocketed conservatives.

Audio of the event, held at the St. Regis Monarch Beach resort, was obtained by The Undercurrent and shared exclusively with The Huffington Post. In it, the three Republican candidates, appearing on a panel titled “The Senate: A Window of Policy Opportunity for Principled Leaders,” speak for several minutes each about the state of their respective races. Because the discussion took place in mid-June, some of the comments are dated. In addition, some of the audio was redacted to preserve the anonymity of the individual who provided it — “a source who was present at the event,” per an official with The Undercurrent — and to remove sections with too much cross-talk. A separate source, who helped organize the retreat, confirmed each candidate’s participation.

During their speeches, both Cotton and Ernst noted that this was actually the second Koch brothers’ retreat they had attended. Last year, the two had gone to the New Mexico event as politicians of less stature. The Koch network has since helped usher them to the doorsteps of the United States Senate.

“I was not known at that time,” Ernst said. “A little-known state senator from a very rural part of Iowa, known through my National Guard service and some circles in Iowa. But the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.”

“We are going to paint some very clear differences in this general election,” she said earlier in her talk. “And this is the thing that we are going to take back — that it started right here with all of your folks, this wonderful network.”

Cotton went further, crediting Koch-funded groups for helping change the political landscape of Arkansas.

“Americans for Prosperity in Arkansas has played a critical role in turning our state from a one-party Democratic state [inaudible] building the kind of constant engagement to get people in the state involved in their communities,” he said.

Such discussion is franker than that offered during the daily grind of the campaign trail — for obvious reason. The talk was private. At one point, Cotton flatly claims that former Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his seat because he “endorsed immigration principles.” At a separate panel on congressional races, the audio of which was also sent to The Huffington Post, officials with two Koch-funded organizations — Americans for Prosperity’s president, Tim Phillips, and Freedom Partners’ president, Marc Short — also spoke more candidly about Senate races than they would have on a public panel.

“Michigan is a state that’s basically an uphill climb honestly,” said Short, mentioning the battle to replace Sen. Carl Levin (D).

“Minnesota, everyone’s favorite comedian, Al Franken. He, against all expectations, actually has kept his head down and not made stupid comments, and has been in decent shape in a relatively blue state,” said Phillips, referring to another Democratic senator, who is up for re-election this year.

Listen to highlights from both panels here…

Continued…

 

Impeachment · President Barack Obama

How President Obama will be impeached

President Obama | (Olivier Douliery/Pool/EPA)

The Wasngton Post – Jonathan Capehart

Vote like it’s 2008 and 2012  on November 4, 2014…

Writing about Rep. Eric Cantor’s  (R-Va.) stunning primary defeat last week, I warned Democrats that the House majority leader’s loss was as much a wake-up call for them as it was for the GOP. Well, now I want to warn them about a very real possibility: President Obama will be impeached if the Democrats lose control of the U.S. Senate.

Yeah, yeah, I read Aaron Blake’s astute piece in The Post on the impeachment process. He says “probably not” to the question of whether the House could impeach Obama. But “probably” is not “definitely.” And with the way the impeachment talk has gone, “probably not” could become “absolutely” if the Senate flips to the Republicans.

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) became the latest to openly discuss impeaching the president. In response to a question from a radio host on Monday, the two-term congressman who was swept in during the tea party wave of 2010, said, Obama is “just absolutely ignoring the Constitution and ignoring the laws and ignoring the checks and balances.” Articles of impeachment, he added, “probably could” pass in the House.

In a later interview, Barletta said one of the reasons he wouldn’t vote for impeachment was because a Democrat-controlled Senate would never convict the Democrat president. Blake also mentions this parenthetically in his piece. Others who have talked about impeachment point to this as the reason not to pursue the extraordinary political rebuke.

Ted Cruz | Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Last August at a town hall meeting, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) cited the Senate as a reason for not pursuing impeachment. “If we were to impeach the president tomorrow, you could probably get the votes in the House of Representatives to do it,” he said in response to a constituent upset about “the fraudulent birth certificate of Barack Obama” and who wanted him punished. “But it would go to the Senate and he wouldn’t be convicted.” A week later, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was asked, “Why don’t we impeach him [Obama]?” His answer was similar to Farenthold’s. “It’s a good question,” the freshman senator said, “and I’ll tell you the simplest answer: To successfully impeach a president you need the votes in the U.S. Senate.”

Actually, impeachment is a two-step process that starts in the House. All it takes is a simple majority of that chamber to approve a single article of impeachment against the president for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Once that happens, a president is forever branded as having been impeached. President Andrew Johnson (1868) and President Bill Clinton (1998) share that distinction. President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before the full House could vote to impeach him.

To officially remove a president from office, two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict him on those articles of impeachment. Johnson and Clinton were not convicted. Obama could share the same or worse fate. A Republican-controlled Senate could lead to Obama becoming the third president impeached and the first ever to be removed from office.

I don’t make this prediction lightly. The tea party-infused GOP has done things many once believed impossible. I’m thinking specifically about the two instances it brought the nation and the world to the brink of economic ruin because of its resistance to raising the debt ceiling. If Republicans are willing to ignore their leadership and jeopardize the full faith and credit of the United States, there really is nothing they aren’t willing to do. And a Republican takeover of the Senate would only embolden them.

I’ve said this before and I’ll keep repeating it until the message sinks in for Democrats inclined to sit out the midterms: Obama is not on the ballot in November, but Obama is on the ballot in November. Democrats have it in their power to keep the Senate and save the Obama presidency from the all-but-certain asterisk of impeachment. Whether they use it is a very real concern.

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: January 2, 2014

Bill swears in Bill.
Bill swears in Bill. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Week

Militants attack Somali hotel, de Blasio is sworn in as mayor, and more

1. Attack on Somali hotel leaves at least six dead
Two car bombs and an attack by armed militants left six people dead and several more wounded at the Jazeera hotel in Mogadishu. Police say they were able to stop the assailants from entering the hotel, which is often used by foreign visitors and government officials. [New York Times]
………………………………………………………………………………

2. New NYC Mayor de Blasio vows to tackle income inequality
New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, took office vowing to continue the fight against income inequality. “That mission – our march towards a fairer, more just, more progressive place, our march to keep the promise of New York alive for the next generation – it begins today,” he said after being sworn into office Wednesday by former President Bill Clinton. [Christian Science Monitor]
………………………………………………………………………………

3. Harry Reid promises vote on long-term unemployment benefits
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the Senate will vote on a bill that aims to extend long-term unemployment benefits when the holiday recess ends on Jan. 6. Reid expressed optimism that the bill will pass the Senate with bipartisan support, but declined to speculate whether he thought the legislation would make it through the House. [FOX]
………………………………………………………………………………

4. Massive fire breaks out in Minneapolis
A huge fire broke out in south Minneapolis, destroying a 10-unit apartment building and injuring at least 14 people. Thick gray smoke could be seen rising from the building, which also housed a small grocery store. It took 50 firefighters to quell the blaze in the freezing weather. [New York Times]
………………………………………………………………………………

5. U.N. releases 2013 Iraq death toll number
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq released its estimate for the total number of civilian casualties in Iraq in 2013. According to the U.N., 7,818 people were killed and 17,981 were injured. It was the most dangerous year since 2008, when 6,787 died and 20,178 were injured. [CNN]
………………………………………………………………………………

6. Hawaii Senate primary causing tension among Democrats
A bitter feud is diving Democrats in Hawaii between those who support Sen. Brian Schatz, the politician appointed to fill the late Daniel Inouye’s seat, and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Inouye’s protegee. Inouye’s deathbed wish was that Hanabusa be chosen to succeed him, but the governor appointed Schatz instead. The primary is scheduled for August 9. [Washington Post]
………………………………………………………………………………

7. Historic document tied to American Independence discovered
It had been misfiled in a museum’s attic for more than four decades, but an archivist at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Manhattan found a letter from the Continental Congress after going through some old documents that were to be discarded. The letter was a draft of a plea for reconciliation sent to Britain in 1775. Analysts say the draft was written by Robert R. Livingston, a New Yorker who helped draft the Declaration of Independence a year later. The document is expected to be auctioned off later this month. [New York Times]
………………………………………………………………………………

8. Kim Jong Un defends uncle’s execution
In a New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un defended the decision to have his uncle executed in December. The uncle, Jang Song Thaek, helped Kim rise to power, but Kim said the purge has brought greater unity to the country. Kim accused his uncle of trying to overthrow the government. [CNN]
………………………………………………………………………………

9. Actor James Avery dies
Actor James Avery died from complications of open heart surgery. Best known for playing Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Avery was 68. He also appeared in Dr. Dolittle 2 and License to Drive. [ABC]
………………………………………………………………………………

10. Gay couple weds during the Rose Parade
Aubrey Loots and Danny Leclair became the first same-sex couple to get married at the Rose Parade. The pair was standing atop a giant wedding cake float when they exchanged “I dos.” It was the first gay wedding at the Rose Parade. [CBS]

United States Congress

Senators Admit Congress Really Sucked In 2013

Joint Session of Congress

The Huffington Post

[…]

Below are the full reactions of senators, lightly edited for clarity:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

“That’s a good question. We were not attacked, uh, to the extent that we were on 9/11.

“We showed a level of dysfunction that has seldom been reached. Maybe the only other time was before the union dissolved. The good things are that it could have been worse. The final story on 2013 for me is it could have been worse.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

“What good happened? A lot of the things Obama wanted to get done didn’t get done, like he wanted to avoid sequestration, which would have put one and two-tenths trillion [dollars] back into spending.

“That’s very positive. We got 17.2 trillion in debt, and you don’t want to add another one trillion and two-tenths to it.”

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)

“Well, the government isn’t completely closed, is it? What good happened this year? I only have three years left, that’s what happened that’s good.”

(Why was it so bad?) “That’s all about leadership. If you have good leadership, you have good progress. If you don’t, you don’t. And that’s not a partisan statement — that’s both sides.”

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)

“Oh, man. That’s the toughest question I’ve had all year.

“It is surprisingly hard. This is the most frustrating year of any of my years in the Congress — House or Senate — because so few major issues went addressed, starting with the fiscal situation, and then bumping along through all the crises and so forth. What good happened this year? The best thing that happened this year is that we finally got word late last night [Dec. 19] that we’re going to be done. I think we all believe that it can’t get worse than this year, so maybe next year will be better.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)

“That’s a really, uh … you know, look, from my perspective, not a great deal. I mean our foreign policy, our credibility around the world is continuing to shatter. Look at Syria. I can’t think of a lot of good, I really cannot. I have to tell you, this year in many ways for me has been one of the most productive. But as I leave here and look at just overall what’s actually happened, it’s not been a good year for the United States, so it’s hard for me to think of much. I’m sorry. I’m usually very upbeat and optimistic. I’m sorry.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), walking with Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.)

Rubio: “What good happened this year? Well, I’ll get back to you.”
Casey: “We got a budget bill!”
Rubio, yelling as elevator doors close: “We’re still America — that’s what’s good!”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)

“We finally got a semblance of a budget. We had the student loans — try to get some stability to that, lower interest rates. And we were able to drive both sides further apart. I don’t know if that’s good, but that’s what happened. That’s facts.

“With [Republican Sen.] Susan Collins, we were able to put a bipartisan group together. We got the governors caucus started, which is really bipartisan, so we’ve got to see if we can carry that and hopefully get a little better direction to get things accomplished. It’s gonna happen if you have relationships, so you have to work on that.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

“We elevated the stories of survivors of sexual assault to make it a national debate and make sure victims’ voices are heard. It was one of my highest priorities.

“I have lots of personal successes, but those are all for [sons] Theo and Henry. I think that’s it.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), walking with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)

Whitehouse: “We cleared the filibuster away from nominees …”
Wicker: “We were not attacked by foreign governments.”
Whitehouse: “The economy continued to improve.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)

“There are a lot of good things. You know, we’re all blessed. This country’s blessed. We’re still standing. There’s a lot of things where people said the sky is falling, but it hasn’t fell.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)

“What good happened this year? [Chuckle, pause, asks if that means with his family or the Senate.] A good report from the president’s review committee on the NSA.”

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)

“Give Lizzie, my press secretary, a call, and we can set something up.”

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)

“My son did great in soccer and cross country. When you said good, I immediately thought of home, not Washington, D.C.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

“You know I think, uh, I’m having trouble trying to come up with something good. I think it’s good that we have exposed the surveillance of Americans without a warrant, and we’re going to try to do something about it. It seems like there’s some consensus in that direction.”

[It’s pointed out that his example is actually rather negative.] “I tried to turn it into a positive. You know, really, we abandoned the sequester caps, and really, I go home disappointed with the year.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

“I think that the budget thing was good. I think that will avert another shutdown. I can’t think of a hell of a lot of things besides that, to be honest with you. The observers say it’s the least productive Congress in history, and I don’t disagree with that. We did some good stuff on that defense bill. Did some good stuff on that. I’m digging for the pony here.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)

Murphy: “The Red Sox won the World Series.”
Booker: “That’s painful. That’s bad!”
Murphy: “Cory Booker got elected to the United States Senate.”

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)

“What good? [Chuckle] Well, you really threw me for a loop. Oh, God. We did pass some bills — the WRDA [Water Resources Development Act] bill. There’s a whole series of bills that people worked on — the compounding [pharmacies] bill — they worked pretty hard on. These are bills that did not make the front page or even the first five pages, but they’ve made a big impact to the folks that really care about them. In fact, I even have a list of eight or nine of them, but they really haven’t attracted any attention. On those bills — they were bipartisan — we worked hard, mostly on the HELP [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] Committee.

“You know, everybody talks, ‘Where’s the farm bill? Why didn’t we get all of the high-profile stuff?’ — and then turning the Senate into the House, which is a bad thing, and our response. Everybody focuses on that. But I think there’s a reservoir of commitment here, on tax reform, on the tax extender package, and other things that really count. Foreign policy is a big one. I just think you have to understand that there are two very different opinions and philosophies here on the part of Republicans and Democrats, but we can occasionally build a bridge. And we’ll keep doing it in spite of 2014, which happens to be an even-numbered year, and you know what happens then.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

“What good happened this year? Well, I think a lot of Senate relationships were strained by what happened late in the year, but I think they’re going to survive. In the Senate, those relationships and friendships matter because you only have 99 colleagues. And, uh, uh, most of the good things that happened for me were with my family and friends, and while people had their challenges generally, this was a good year for my family and for most of the people I know.”

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

“I had a lot of good experiences with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, in getting amendments, working together on amendments and bills, and getting them passed by the Senate. I think the Senate took on a lot of tough issues. If you look at what the Senate passed, it was a number of big issues, from budget to immigration, and gun control was up, and I think the list goes on and on.”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.)

“I think we’re getting close on the farm bill. Obviously passing a budget. I think ENDA [Employment Non-Discrimination Act] was a good outcome, immigration reform. I think as we focus on all the negative, there were some pretty amazing things. I don’t think anyone felt we were going to do comprehensive immigration reform. ENDA had been hanging around for a long time. And I think the budget, as I understand, is the first time since 1986 that a divided Congress has produced a budget. I tend to look at the good side of things. There was plenty bad, though.”

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska)

“We passed a budget for the first time in four years. … That’s not a bad thing. We got a defense authorization. A lot of appointments done. The economy, I think the economy, we saw the report yesterday — 4.1 percent GDP — better than people expected. Economy’s better, retail sales are up, consumer confidence is up, and deficit is down. That’s good news.”

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine)

“Number one, getting the first budget in four years. And I don’t know if you were aware, but I just learned this is the first budget out of a divided Congress, with the House [under a] different [party], since 1986. I think that’s significant. It wasn’t the most picturesque process in the world, but it was done though bipartisan negotiation. That’s a big deal. That’s a very big deal. Getting the defense bill done, I feel positive. We had some good bipartisan work on immigration. We had some good bipartisan work on student loans. So there were some bright spots. Not a very productive year — I’m not going to argue that.

“I think this whole business with the rules, we need to have some continued discussions. It’s trying to find the right balance between respecting minority rights and not facilitating obstruction.”

[He’s asked whether he’s still glad he ran for the Senate last year.] “Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. You’re dealing with public policy at the highest level, and for a person like myself who’s curious, likes public policy and likes to try to fix things, it’s a great place to be. I’ve had some very frustrating moments. The shutdown, the vote on [gun] background checks was a downer, but by and large, I feel pretty good.”

Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.)

“I think a number of things. We’re right on the verge of getting the farm bill done, we’re piecing that together. We got the WRDA [Water Resources Development Act] bill done. So really a lot of things have gotten done when you take away the budget issues. That’s really where we, you know, where we have a problem agreeing — in the amount of money we’re going to spend in the future and increase taxes, increase revenue to get those dollars. That’s really where the concern is at.

“I’d like to have seen a lot more things voted on. I don’t have any problems at all casting votes. I think the amendment process needs to be fixed, [so] members can offer amendments. That’s how you avoid what happened with the military pay issue that we’ve got, how things like that are allowed to go forward. That doesn’t happen if everybody’s consulted.”

U.S. Politics

Archconservative Jim Inhofe Has Change Of Heart About Democrats

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK)

The Huffington Post

One of the most partisan Republicans in the Senate, Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe, said Sunday that his “attitude” toward Senate Democrats has changed as a result of the outpouring of sympathy he received from colleagues after the death of his son. Perry Inhofe, 52, was killed in a plane crash in November.

“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I seem to have gotten more — well at least as many, maybe more — communications from some of my Democrat friends,” Inhofe told host David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And I’m a pretty partisan Republican.”

In the wake of his personal tragedy, Inhofe said, “all of a sudden the old barriers that were there — the old differences, those things that keep us apart — just disappear. It’s not just a recognition that I know how much more important this is, but they do, too. And they look out. And they realize that you’ve lost someone. And that brings us closer together.”

During three terms in the Senate, Inhofe has established a reputation as a take-no-prisoners political brawler, and as a legislator whose ideology is both fiscally and socially to the right of many in his party. An outspoken skeptic of the scientific evidence for man-made climate change, Inhofe has butted heads on the Senate floor over the issue with nearly every member of the Democratic leadership.

When news of his son’s death reached Washington, however, politics were quickly set aside. And even though Inhofe is a legendary thorn in the side of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the loss of Inhofe’s son served to underscore for him the things that he and Reid have in common.

“Harry and I … disagree on all this stuff, this political stuff. But we were both married the same year, in 1959. And we’ve both had some illnesses. So yeah, I would say that when something like this happens, you get closer together. The differences are still there. … But your attitude changes,” said Inhofe.

Like Inhofe, Reid is an unapologetic partisan. But in a speech Reid gave on the Senate floor shortly after Perry Inhofe’s death, the Majority Leader described the genuine friendship he’s formed with the Oklahoma Republican. “I really care a lot about Jim Inhofe, and he and I are unquestionably friends,” Reid told the assembled senators. “We may not agree on all political issues, but we agree that we’re friends. I’ve helped him when I could, and he’s helped me when he can.”

As friends, Reid said, he and Inhofe “put all the disagreements to one side and look at each other for what we are, outside of our politics.”

On Sunday, Inhofe suggested that his change of heart is likely to extend beyond personal dynamics to his work in the Senate. “I can’t help but think when I’m confronting someone on something in which we disagree, I’ll know how they responded to my loss. And how we got closer. And it’ll stay that way,” he said.

C-Span Video of Sen. Reid offering condolences to Sen. Inhofe